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From Obama to Trump: Questions over a helluva of transition!


(FILES) This file photo taken on November 10, 2016 shows US President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands during a  transition planning meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016 in Washington,DC.  US President-elect Donald Trump on December 28, 2016   / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON

(FILES) This file photo taken on November 10, 2016 shows US President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands during a transition planning meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016 in Washington,DC.<br />US President-elect Donald Trump on December 28, 2016<br />/ AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON

Eight years ago, as Barack Obama glided into the White House with some incredible 83% approval rating at home, and much excitement abroad, I made some projections in a piece titled ‘What Africa Expects From Obama.’ In the fullness of time, I intend to return to this same theme and attempt the semblance of a balance sheet on the Obama presidency from the point of view of Africa’s expectations and take-home. Suffice it to examine for now the nature of the unusual transition that the United States, a country that has remained at the head of the pack for close to a century, is witnessing this weekend.

Against all odds, Barack Obama kept faith with his commitment not to commit the United States into a new war. If you discount the terrorism-inspired violent conflicts and wars across the global landscape, you could manage a sigh of relief that major conflagrations directly involving the US were avoided in the past eight years of this highly distinguished presidency. The sad news is, not any more. No, not with the upcoming coronation of Donald J. Trump.
It is so certain that an unusual combination of ego, arrant lack of critical experience, a particularly inappropriate temperament, and embarrassing ignorance of the nuances of global diplomacy on the part of the man who would be president would certainly sooner than later see Americans getting back into the trenches of war. This, with North Korea and Iran, probably immediately, and several other new flashpoints around the world later.

With Trump’s determination to walk America back away from the world, is the world not now confronted with the emergence of, and consolidation of the place of new global powers, especially the turbo-charging Germany and very deliberate China? Sometime in the late 1950s, US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, gave indication that it was unimaginable that the US would use its nuclear arsenal in a war unless the United States was directly threatened or attacked. This provided the immediate impetus for General Charles de Gaulle to launch France’s independent nuclear program, such that by 1962, Paris already had its own bomb. The General also pulled his country out of the military structure of NATO, in a classical lets-put-our-security-in-our-own-hands logic. Isn’t it obvious that Trump’s NATO-is-obsolete mindset a sure bet for proliferation of the nuclear bomb? Is it wholly rational for Germany and Japan to remain fidelity to the commitment not to rearm in the face of a Trump presidency that is driven by a transactional mentality to US foreign policy?
Trump wishes to see NATO members paying their fair share of the alliance’s budget. If they don’t, he insists, it would be foolhardy to take US support and protection for granted going forward! Isn’t it so serious that Mr. Trump does not seem to appreciate that NATO is but a key element in American global influence, nay control over Europe!! He wants to do away with the body if the other members are unwilling to make do their funding commitment. Nobody seems able to have nudged the crusading president-elect to take a look at the counterfactual of a weak and weakened NATO. Why is it difficult for the Trump team to see this as an open sesame to a Vladimir Putin with thinly disguised irredentist proclivities over the old Soviet Union, and much of Eastern Europe? Or is this a debt that the new occupant of the White House must pay to Putin?
Trump rails at free trade, including the structures of its delivery like the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). What manner of an American president is coming into office that does not understand that these are mere agencies of American soft power for global dominance? Given the deep leverage of Russia’s Vladimir Putin over an inexperienced and not-too-eager-to-learn Donald Trump, isn’t the United States for once emerging as a pitiable pawn in a chessboard over which the Russian president is surely going to loom large?
Ivanka’s father thinks little of the European Union (EU). Indeed, he has given enough indications already that he could not be bothered if the single most successful evidence of integration in human history comes crashing down. Pray, isn’t there somebody among the band sweeping into office in Washington DC later this week to let the president-elect know that a key element in EU’s compelling story is a fundamental strategic imperative. This was something made evident by the reality of World War I and II – to integrate the Germans and their economy so intricately into Europe that they would not again be able to disrupt the post-WW II social order on the continent, and by extension the world?
With very scant regard, indeed thinly disguised contempt for the people of colour everywhere, isn’t the marginalization of Africa set to be complete under a President Trump? Come to think of it, how could Mr. Trump imagine that the American homeland is going to be better secured in the face of his deeply divisive outlook? Isn’t he aware that with his strong antipathy towards Muslims in particular and other minorities in general, he is unwittingly nurturing a colony of angry, despondent, and desperate Americans, yes Americans, that could seek to make a point by tripping over vis a vis threats to the homeland?
With the sentiment for independence being increasingly stoked in places like California and Texas, doesn’t it occur to Trump that by his total lack of sensibility for those that do not look or reason like him, considerable damage could be done to the American system? This is a quintessential federal system that is a model to many nations still struggling with the strategies of building a nation-state, as the Americans would seem to have successfully done, from their bouquet of nationalities.
Mr. Donald J. Trump waxes strong on his commitment to repeal, well, and replace Obamacare. Why does it seem too difficult for him and his handlers to appreciate that a program that helped to lift some 22 million people out of a critical dimension of exclusion should not be so cavalierly treated? Shouldn’t he know that repealing Mr. Obama’s signature legacy is an instant invitation to opposition from those who had access to health insurance for the first time in their lives? Aren’t these ones also Americans whose well-being a president should also be committed to?
Politics, no doubt, is contestation for, and usage of power within formal and informal structures, and all pertaining thereto, in a human community; or between groups of such communities. Critical as electoral contest is to politics in the modern democratic polity, shouldn’t the incoming US President be counseled that a lid has to be put on this at some point? That he has emerged from such a rancorous electoral exercise that his country just witnessed should have called the attention of Mr. Trump to the fact that he has a historical duty to bring everybody, and all political tendencies together? Why then is it appropriate in his own reckoning to keep taking down whoever he thinks has crossed his way, the cult-like following of some of such people, like Senator John McCain and Congressman John Lewis, notwithstanding?
These certainly are interesting, albeit scary times as the world prepares to enter what promises to be one of its most unstable periods since the debut of modern diplomacy. This is no thanks to what choice the American electorate decided to make on November 8, 2016. Now, doesn’t it seem urgent that a system that could throw up a Trump and put down a Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) should re-examine its own suitability and sustainability? Whereas HRC entered the race with deep commitment to uplift of women and children, and other minorities; a most distinguished career in public service; an unprecedented level of preparation for the job; steady hands; and compelling experience, Trump’s penchant for self-love remains legendary. It arguably hovers on the borders of narcissism.
Doesn’t the entire Trump phenomenon constitute, as some centers of power with unmistakable adversarial attitude to the US are already gloating, a critique of democracy, and especially the US Electoral College system? The latter had ensured that a candidate that came out on top in popular votes by close to three million votes would lose to her opponent. With the reversal liberal democracy is facing in the US now, and the impetus that a Trump victory has added to the once fringe and thinly-veiled racist platforms across much of Europe and around the world, what future awaits liberal democracy? This is a system most aptly described by a pundit as not necessarily a perfect system of government, but by far the most appropriate ever proffered by man. Isn’t the time right, and the duty urgent for democracy to begin to reinvent if it must continue to occupy that high pedestal, or indeed survive?
Mimiko, mni, most recently at Harvard University, is a Professor of Political Science at Obafemi Awolowo University,
Ile-Ife. E-mail:

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